By Benjamin Davis
Welcome to “What Happened When Frank Died.” In this column, for as long as I’m allowed, I’m going to kill Frank. Like—a lot. Worse, every two weeks, he will then be subjected to a multiverse of afterlives: absurd, funny, brutal, depressing, wild, creepy, heart-wrenching afterlives. Some will be based on existing theories, some on my own demented imaginings. In each, Frank will begin anew, searching, as always, for his lost family in the messy business of the many potential Great Beyonds. Frank (thankfully) does not remember his past-afterlives. Yet, attentive readers who pick up clues along the way will be able to solve the mystery of what happened before Frank died.
Frank was a tree. Frank knew he was a tree because that’s exactly the sort of thing trees know. He was a big one too, somewhere warm. Frank could feel the world around him. He felt it in a way he’d never felt anything before and the only way he could think to describe it was: loud.
It’s in me! It’s damn in me, it has been for weeks!
Frank heard it or felt it: a voice. It was not a man or a woman. It was a tree.
It will leave eventually, just grit your bark and bear it.
Don’t be that guy, Bob, don’t be that guy who just changes idioms cause we’re trees now. Fucking hell, Bob.
Frank tried to butt in. Excuse me?
I’m not being that guy! I’m making the best of it!
Bob, shut up! Another tree called from somewhere in the distance.
Frank tried to make his voice louder. Hello! Guys?
Well, I think it’s important to stay positive.
What the hell is so positive about this, Bob. A family of squirrels is crapping inside me. Inside me, Bob!
Why do you do that? Why put my name at the end of every sentence like that?
There was a pause. Then a voice from behind Frank said, It’s called condescension – another pause – Bob.
The forest around Frank erupted into laughter.
HELLO! Frank tried to call over the din. No response.
Frank would have tensed or reddened with anger but he couldn’t. He was a tree. So, he yelled again, WOULD SOMEONE TELL ME WHAT’S GOING ON?
The other trees fell silent but for a few trailing chuckles. Then, one spoke, softly.
Ah, a new one. Sorry, we’re all a bit fed up with being trees—
I’M NOT—I’m one with nature!
Shut the fuck up, Bob! two or three of the other trees cried out.
Don’t listen to Bob. Being a tree sucks. You’re always cold, things crawl around in and on you, and you can’t really see anything. You just have to sit and suck it up and listen to, well, mostly Bob. He was a dentist.
Frank could feel Bob; he was a couple trees to the left. Frank could feel his frustration.
Orthodontist, Bob growled.
Nice to meet you, Frank said, unable to think of anything else. They were right, he was cold—to the roots. Do, we— is everyone a tree?
Frank felt a collective sigh.
Common question? Frank said, quickly.
Yeah, said one of the voices. I mean, when the wind is good, we get some communications from other parts of the forest, but it’s mostly complaints. We’re all very bored—the worst kind of hell. You wouldn’t happen to know any jokes, would you?
Frank tried to shake his leafy crown in response but it didn’t work. So, he stayed silent for a bit. The other trees continued on with their complaining, occasionally berating Bob. One of them had some sort of rot, another was besieged by a woodpecker that amused itself all day by drilling holes. None of them spoke much about life before being a tree. No one wanted to remind each other of better times.
Then, one day, there came a sound. With it came a whistling wind of excitement.
The news spread through the forest like wildfire.
Oh, come on, baby, come on, baby! Make me a book! Make me a house! Make me toilet paper, anything but a fucking tree!
All the trees called out their dreams and aspirations to be turned into a variety of buildings and household products. It sounded like begging, like crying, like the most desperate celebration on earth. Even Bob was calling out with the rest, I’m so excited, I’ve got bark-bumps!
No one even told him to shut up.
Benjamin Davis has stories & poems in 25+ literary journals like BOOTH, Hobart, Maudlin House. His first book of poems, The King of FU (2018), was such a smashing success it shocked the indie press who printed it into an early grave. He is now working on his first six novels.